Both men represent truly remarkable stories. Gordon, a Chicago native, who now lives in Jerusalem, is a scholar with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Biblical Studies from Hebrew University. Son of an orthodox Rabbi, but now identified with the Karaite Jewish community, Gordon was fired at an early age to forge his personal understanding of his Jewish faith based on a direct study of the Hebrew Bible. Johnson, who now lives in Charlotte, NC, has his Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical and is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He has served as pastor of Park Avenue Church in Minneapolis, and as chaplain of the Minnesota Vikings.
The book is written in an autobiographical style that pulls the reader into an engaging, unfolding story, that is every bit an adventure in learning and discovery. The most remarkable aspect of this story for me was to see how Johnson, as a devoted Christian seeking the Hebraic roots of Jesus (Yeshua), was drawn to study Hebrew with Gordon, and how Gordon in turn, without sharing Johnson’s messianic views, could nonetheless wholeheartedly participate in the historical quest for the Hebraic roots of Jesus’ most famous and well-known teaching–the Lord’s Prayer. This symbiotic relationship alone makes the book stand out as a unique and singular contribution that can be of great interest to both Christians and Jews.
But what is just as remarkable are the results of the historical investigation itself. Johnson and Gordon take turns narrating their stories in a gripping first person style. Central to the book is an analysis of the Prayer as it appears in the various copies of Hebrew Matthew preserved by Ibn Shaprut, a 14th century Rabbi living in Spain. This is the text of Hebrew Matthew (called Even Bohen) that Professor George Howard brought to the attention of the academic world in 1987 (see my notes and summary). I agree with Howard, as do Gordon and Johnson, that this version of Matthew is not merely a translation of our Greek New Testament manuscripts, but represents an independent and ancient source written originally in Hebrew that was passed down in rabbinic circles for centuries. Hebrew Matthew offers us an opportunity to examine the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in the original Hebrew, rather than an approximated version based on a translation from the Greek.